Digital decluttering

The contents of my ‘To Sort’ folder tipped out on my desktop

In order to clear the way for fresh projects in 2019 I am currently in the process of cleaning up my digital clutter. I have files, photos and folders all over the place. Some is on my computer at work, some on a laptop at home, some on external drives, memory sticks, Dropbox – it’s a bit of a mess really.

Fortunately my Dropbox subscription has tonnes of space so I’m throwing everything in there and using a software tool to scan through and identify what I have multiple copies of (it works even if the file names are different). Then I have to laboriously click through each item and choose which copy to keep and which ones to delete. It is a boring job but fifteen minutes here and fifteen minutes there adds up over time such that in the last fortnight I have removed 18,897 surplus copies of stuff. There is still a little bit more to go but that’s the bulk of the duplicates dealt with.

My next step will be to go through the 53,740 items left and decide what to keep and what to delete. Some of that is already done as I have a few folders of ‘keepers’ where I put stuff that is valuable to me such as important documents, scans of the kids’ school reports and certificates and such like. But there is also a lot of stuff I have saved over the years that I can’t even remember what it is and a fair bit of that should probably be dumped.

I’m a bit of an information junkie, so whenever I stumble across something halfway interesting I tend to save a PDF of it. All those can add up and I will never have time to read all of it. This is where some active decision making needs to happen to choose if I will actually make use of what I’ve hoarded, in which case I need to do so. Otherwise I need to get rid of it. These days it is easy enough to find things again online so my hoarding instinct is no longer a useful strategy.

Some folks would argue that digital clutter doesn’t really matter, storage is relatively cheap and a search will find things even within a massive disordered folder. However, my personal experience is that despite only being ‘virtual stuff’, all those unread PDFs and muddled photos do cause a background stress and distraction. Seeing all that stuff every time I look for whatever I want to work on pulls my attention away from whatever I was setting out to do. This is what I’m wanting to fix.

The distraction factor applies to my digital files, the notes I have in Evernote (I’m on a mission to eliminate most of those too), ebooks, hardcopy books, paper, photos, and my phone.

With my phone I’m aggressively deleting apps and trying to keep only essentials on my home screen because it really is a distraction device if I let it be. I’m at the point with my phone that if an app remains unused for more than a few weeks it gets deleted. It is easy to download apps and each icon on that little screen just adds to the clutter.

There is a fair bit of discussion around the internet about ‘digital detox’ and I’ve given that some serious consideration but after keeping mental notes on my technology use over the last couple of months I think the amount of time I spend using technology is not a significant problem, my issue is more to do with the amount of junk I hold onto unnecessarily.


New year update

Sea lion on the beach at Surat Bay, Catlins.

Another new year with it’s own list of goals, hopes and anxieties. I have made (and am still refining) some particular goals for this year, though I will focus on trying to put them into action rather than going on about them here. I also have a handful of anxieties, particularly with regard to my work, how the kids will fare, and finding my own sense of purpose.

There are also a few projects left over from 2018 that I’m wanting to get finished. These may end up as posts on the blog once they are done. I have a few post ideas up my sleeve and am committing myself to publishing at least one blog post a week this year. Currently I have no particular topic or theme in mind for my writing here in 2019, I’ve decided to keep this space as my personal blog that will cover the range of stuff that rattles around in my head.

My last post here was almost 3 months ago now. Since then life has mostly been the usual work and family stuff. I applied for half a dozen jobs during October and November 2018, none of which obtained the desired outcome. The break from work for three weeks was good, I had really lost momentum by the end of the year.

We had the usual busy time with two kid’s birthdays and Christmas within 10 days, a few days at Surat Bay in the Catlins and a few days in Clyde. I’m back at work now but we will have another short time away in the last week of January. Then it will be full steam into work and school for the whole family.


Meeting Stewart Island locals

We recently took our family to Stewart Island to enjoy the unspoiled wilderness there and during our stay met many friendly and interesting locals. The people are really friendly and helpful, and the wildlife also surprisingly accomodating of humans. My eldest daughter and I encountered a kiwi in broad daylight (at 11:15am) as it crossed the track in front of us on Ulva island. That was the highlight of the trip for me, but we were also visited each day by a rowdy group of kaka who hung around town like a gang of teenagers.

We were so inspired by this trip that my wife and I are now dreaming of how to live on the island permanently!


Recalibrating my reading

Back in November 2011 I published a list of books I wanted to read. Looking at that list now seven years later, I am dismayed at how few of those books I have actually completed reading since then. From a list of 85 books that I claimed I wanted to read, I have read a total of 8 of them seven years later:

  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
  • Can You Drink the Cup? by Henri Nouwen
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  • The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
  • The Shan: Refugees Without a Camp by Bernice Koehler Johnson

That’s only 10%, why so few?

The problem is not that haven’t been reading much over the last seven years (I’ve read a total of 180 books over this period). I think the issue is that the sort of books I actually read is different to the books I think I should read.

When I analyse the list of what I thought I should read, it contained 30 literary classics, of which I have read two, though I’ve also read some other classics which were not on my list in 2011. There were also 43 books about Christian topics, many of these books are quite ‘serious’ and require concentration to read well. I’ve often felt guilty for not reading some of these books which I spent good money to buy and are by reputable authors. However, I have read plenty of books on Christian topics in the last seven years, what tends to determine exactly which books I choose to read is the issues I happen to be wrestling with at the time.

My choices of what to read are driven by multiple factors, here are some I can think of:

  • What I’m already part way through reading (I usually have 3 or 4 books on the go simultaneously)
  • How I am feeling (do I want something light, or am I in the mood to concentrate?)
  • Time available
  • Current ability to concentrate (do I have an hour alone or fifteen minutes with kids bouncing around)
  • Book availability (am I at home where the hardcopy is, do I only have my Kindle)
  • How public is my location (I’m not going to read The Mortification of Sin at work!)
  • What issues are currently on my mind
  • Am I trying to learn something in particular

For good or bad, those are the kinds of things which influence what I actually read. The results of such choices are reflected in the list of books I’ve read over recent years. What is immediately apparent is an abundance of lighter Christian reading, ‘business’ and ‘self-help’ books and fiction compared to the serious list of what I should read.

A factor in these differences is something I wrote back in the 2011 post:

In choosing books to read, I am trying to aim for literature that will enrich my soul – quality rather than quantity.

While that is a good aspiration, it doesn’t account for reality. In order to enrich my soul what I am reading has to meet some immediate need or I will discard the book and opt for something else. I do try to slowly plod through serious books even while I’m reading more interesting stuff, but if it is too hard I keep putting it aside and eventually forget the flow of the book so achieve nothing.

Moving forward I think I need to make use of libraries more where I can, it is easier to try a book and then discard it without guilt if it is borrowed rather then one I bought. I do want to finish reading all the books I have purchased myself though so will need to exert discipline to keep reading some of those harder ones on my bookshelves at home.

Something I did do this week is cull all the freebies from my Kindle library (over 150 of them!). My reasoning is that even if I only paid 99c for a kindle book on sale, the barrier of actually paying real money should have caused me to give the purchase decision more thought than if the book was free. Also, a lot of the freebies were in the ‘old and difficult to read’ category so had been sitting there un-read for years, better to be shot of them.

An encouraging trend is that over the last three years my reading rate has picked up sharply so it could be that if I revisit this topic in another seven years a lot more of the books already on my shelves will have found their way on to the lists of books I have read. I hope so, because they are good books and will enrich my soul if I put in the effort to read them. But I also want to see plenty of poetry and fiction on my reading lists in future years, also a bit more history and biography. The business and self-help categories can probably be dumped without any loss to my wellbeing.

To make my musings here more concrete, I’ve come up with some personal ‘book selection guidelines’:

  • Prioritise books I already own
  • Use libraries as much as possible
  • Try books but abandon the junk quickly
  • Classic novels are usually good reading
  • Read lots of poetry
  • Read what I enjoy, we all have our own tastes
  • Don’t feel guilty for reading fiction

Tooth extraction

As a flow-on effect of the sinus surgery I had a month ago, the CT scan which was done for that procedure showed a tooth with an infected root eroding the bone of my sinus cavity, so that also had to go. I had the tooth out on Friday afternoon, dosed myself up on painkillers and then enjoyed an evening of Bill Bailey with my wife and daughter to take my mind off it. (Actually we booked the tickets months ago, it was just bad timing that it coincided with the dental procedure).


The Land of Far Beyond

We are currently reading our 9-year-old a book by Enid Blyton called “The Land of Far Beyond” which is like a kids version of “Pilgrim’s Progress”. In this story people like Patience and Peter do well if they stay on the narrow path and avoid the company of folks such as Despair but instead choose to travel with people such as Cheerful and Courageous. Unfortunately, on their journey to the City of Happiness the travellers find it all too easy to stray from the path and wander into all sorts of trouble.

It would be easy to be cynical and mock a story like this, but instead I find myself wondering if a simple approach to life and faith might do me good? Maybe I’m wishing that in real life pitfalls were clearly labelled as they are in this story, that the name of a person would instantly let me know what they were truly like. Most of all I want to be able to see that I am indeed walking on the narrow way – sometimes it feels like it would be easier to undertake a long arduous journey to a place far away than to muddle through the labyrinth of life as a sinner in a fallen world.

I guess what I’m pondering is how much easier it would be to live by the guidelines of simple virtues and avoiding clearly defined vices. In our society this tends to be branded as conservatism, traditionalist and intolerance, but the New Testament seems to urge us to such a life and I much prefer it to the muddied morality of secularism. It would also be more emotionally honest to be able to identify in myself when I’m being lazy or diligent, content or covetous.


Blog consolidating and spring-cleaning


Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been consolidating and spring cleaning my blog. This has involved  using a self-hosted WordPress installation to import a bunch of old backup files, then adding some other posts by hand that were not in these backups for various reasons. After that I had to go through and remove duplicated posts, clean up and publish some old drafts that needed to see daylight, and then delete all the remaining drafts that I’m not going to use. Once everything was together in one place I cleared out all the content from and imported the consolidated site back here.

The result is that this blog (A Saved Wretch) now has 741 published posts, an additional 380 over what was here a month ago. Even so, there are still a few posts I know I’ve written but cannot find which I will add once I track them down.

Blogging philosophy

Over the years I have wavered on my ideas as to what I wanted to present to the world on my personal website, initially it was strongly focused on my Christian faith, then while I was seeking a career change I tried to cultivate a different persona in case employers Googled my name.

The mindset I’ve settled into now is that very few people ever visit this site so it is actually primarily for me. I’m also getting old enough that there’s no point trying to change how others might perceive me based on what they stumble across here so it’s easier to just be myself. So there is a real mix of stuff on the blog, from single sentence updates to articles of several thousand words, all covering a fairly broad range of topics.


The spring-cleaning will be ongoing as I loop through all the posts (I’m going from oldest to newest) fixing typos, spelling errors, broken links, missing images and inconsistent formatting. While this is a big job, it is also interesting to me as I look back over nine years of blogging and see the changes in my writing.


Moving forward and as I do my spring-cleaning, I’m saving a plain text copy of each post with the categories, tags and publication date included, labelled with the post name. I making a folder for each of these plain text files and adding to those folders the original and resized image files plus any other relevant files for each post. One of my biggest headaches has been tracking down all the pieces that need to be put together into some posts. I’m keeping all this stuff synched with Dropbox so I can work on it anywhere.

Categories and tags

Another remaining task is to rationalise my tags and categories. I currently have 15 categories and 430 tags. My present approach is to try to make the categories obvious, I want to avoid subtle distinctions between categories, it should be immediately clear what category a post belongs to. The tags are where the finer distinctions come into play.

The point of this is to use categories and tags to enable the WordPress algorithm to display ‘related posts’. In my early days blogging I manually linked to related posts within the body of each post I wrote. However, this approach has problems; it is really time consuming, I can only link to what I’ve already published (i.e., future content won’t be referenced even if it is closely related), and it leads to a lot of broken links over time.

A couple of things I’ve learned from this exercise:

  • keep backups in multiple storage locations
  • make sure backups are well labelled
  • have a logical system for labeling and archiving images
  • plain text copies of the text of posts are super valuable

If anyone has wisdom or ideas on how to do any of this stuff better please let me know in the comments!


Sinus surgery

At 2pm last Monday I was knocked out. It was done gently with an anaesthetic but once that wore off it certainly felt like someone very large has smacked me hard on the nose.

For a long time I’ve suffered from almost continuous head colds, one would resolve only to be promptly replaced by another. Eventually a referral to the otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) department at Dunedin hospital resulted in a CT scan and decision to give me a nose job and clear out my sinus cavities to get the air circulating around inside my head more freely.

According to the surgeon the procedure went well and overall I think the recovery has been OK. For the first four days afterwards I really did feel like I’d been hit very hard on the nose. That has now subsided and mostly I’d describe what remains as blood and bogies. The sinus cavities were packed with dissolvable packing which obviously has to come back out eventually. I’m still quite blocked up, just like a really bad cold or sinus infection!

Time will tell how effective all this is at easing my head cold problem, hopefully it turns out to be worth the discomfort.